Potential Change To DNR Review Process Leave Environmental Groups Concerned

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Environmental groups say the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) may be getting ready to cut back on a type of development project review.

Three years ago, the DNR board authorized the department to begin updating its environmental analysis and review process. The DNR says it’s recently ramped up that effort, and has proposed some changes.

But the Sierra Club and other environmental groups claim one proposed change would either require a full environmental impact statement on a project or eliminate a less-comprehensive review called an environmental assessment. The Sierra Club’s Shahla Werner says the assessments are important – covering things like large farm expansions, high capacity wells, and forest management – and should not be halted: “It’s really limiting what is going to be examined in the future related to these developments. Plus, it’s really vague.”

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The DNR says about 25 environmental assessments are done every year, compared to just one or two environmental impact statements. The DNR’s Dave Siebert says he’s still reviewing all the public comments on the proposed rule change. But he says the state is striving for greater efficiency: “There are a lot of requirements that result in paperwork, that doesn’t receive a lot of public scrutiny, [and] that uses staff time. We just don’t think that’s efficient.”

Siebert says the DNR is also trying to create a strategic analysis, letting staff offer a big picture on certain topics before specific projects are proposed. The proposed rule changes may go the DNR board later this year.

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